Chicago Jews gather to mourn tragedy

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

The Chicago area Jewish community gathered this week at vigils to mourn the victims of the shooting rampage at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead and six injured.

Speaking at a prayerful gathering of 400 at Temple Sholom in the wake of the tragedy was high school sophomore Eli Perlin, social justice chair of the Reform temple’s senior youth group, Or Shalom. He said it was important to come together at this time to seek comfort and support through prayer and song.

“After a tragedy like this,” Perlin said, “to be able to bring together your community and talk about it, to try to understand it and accept that something like this happened, it’s so important to show that we care and that your community supports you and the larger Jewish community of our country.”

The American Jewish Committee has launched the #ShowUpFor Shabbat campaign, calling on Jews to fill synagogues this coming weekend. Natalie Callone, assistant director, international affairs and communications, for AJC Chicago, said, “One of the things that was so earth shattering and heart breaking about this tragedy is that the sanctity of the Sabbath was shattered. Hatred such as this cannot be normalized.”

Lonnie Nasatir, the ADL’s Regional Director of the Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest area, said however horrific, the mass shooting was not surprising given the historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment. “It’s a tinderbox that exploded,” Nasatir said, describing what became the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. “Whether it is community leaders or elected officials, politics must be put aside to stand up against hate in unequivocal ways and denounce bigotry wherever and whenever it may occur.” ADL continues to partner with law enforcement on initiatives and training. The organization is also working with educators providing resources on how to talk to children about what happened. “It can be incredibly unnerving for young people to think they would have to look over their shoulder in fear of something like this happening,” Nasatir said.

Rabbi Michael Weinberg of the Reform Temple Beth Israel spoke at a community-wide vigil in response to the massacre. “We’re paying tribute to the memories of those innocent Jewish worshippers who were murdered and also praying for the speedy recovery of the first responders and others who were injured. Our second agenda is to gather together as a diverse community that celebrates its diversity and says enough of the hatred and bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and xenophobia—all of the divisiveness and intolerance that eats away at the fabric of our society. We want to raise our voices to say that we can build a better society and build an understanding of peace and tolerance and justice and spreading light.”

Rabbi Ari Hart of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation in Skokie, also participated in the vigil. “We’re gathering across denominational backgrounds. We’re being joined by other faith communities. We thought it was important to be together in Skokie as one, to stand together as one against hatred and remember those lives that were lost. We are here to say it’s not tolerable and to demand change.

“I think we need to move forward together as one. The shooter did not run into the synagogue and say all Conservative Jews must die, or Reform, or Orthodox. He said all Jews must die. In their eyes, there’s no difference. It’s a powerful reminder to us that we are one and need to be together as one and change the discourse in our society. We must be a part of the effort to speak out for one another and for people who are different than us. Always remember that every person is made in the image of G-d. Any speech that strips away that value of a human being is speech that moves toward violence. That’s what we are seeing now. We need to call out that kind of speech when we see it.”

Judy Levey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs participated in an interfaith vigil downtown at Federal Plaza. “People came to be together to grieve and recommit ourselves to the work we do to build relationships,” she said. Interfaith leaders also “lifted up the work of HIAS” at the vigil.  HIAS became part of the national conversation after the shooter referred to the refugee resettlement organization online.

Chabad of Northbrook held a vigil at which law enforcement provided a security presence and participated in a candle lighting in memory of those who died. In his remarks, Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, the regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinios, said, “Cold-blooded, baseless hatred can be uprooted from its core only by saturating our world with pure, undiscriminating, uninhibited, unyielding love and acts of kindness.  Today more than ever, we need to spread love and unity; positivity and light. And that’s why we are here this evening, to come together to connect and to add light.  Brightness, goodness and kindness.”

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